Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Owner Requested Euthanasia - What Does it REALLY Mean

When I first heard the term "owner requested euthanasia" I envisioned a low income, older couple with a frail, elderly dog or cat wrapped up in a blanket, lovingly carried in their arms into an animal shelter to be peacefully euthanized at the end of his life. 

Providing the service at an animal shelter seems like a smart thing to do. It brings in a little extra revenue and provides a compassionate service for the community in their time of need. 

But then I learned the ugly truth. Along with the above scenario, other scenarios are playing out at some shelters in Wisconsin.  

1) A healthy or treatable pet surrendered by an owner who hopes that the shelter will find their pet a new loving home doesn't pass the shelter's behavior or medical evaluation. Often unbeknownst to the owner, they have signed a surrender document consenting to the "euthanasia" (killing) of their pet. This is often buried in the fine print.  The pet may be dead before the owner's car leaves the parking lot because a surrendered pet doesn't have to undergo the mandatory seven day stray hold in Wisconsin.

2) A healthy or treatable pet is brought in by an owner in the hopes that he can be re-homed.  
A "friendly" staff member counsels the owner that "euthanasia"  is the most humane option.

The benefit to the shelter? They don't report this in their regular kill numbers. So when you look at the "owner requested euthanasia" numbers, it looks suspiciously high.

The good news is that the cat is out of the bag about owner-requested euthanasia.  More and more people are demanding a clear definition and accurate reporting.

The new national database project Shelter Animals Count gives this definition of Owner Requested Euthanasia:  "For the purposes of this document, we are choosing to define owner requested euthanasia as the euthanasia of a pet whose owner brought the pet to the shelter for that service.  In other words, the owner brought the pet in specifically for that service - it was their intent before arriving.  Any other definition of "owner requested" euthanasia leaves much up to interpretation and therefore a great deal of variation among organizations and their reporting."

Richard Avanzino of Maddies' Fund wrote an excellent article on the subject of owner-requested euthanasia. 

My advice? 

1. If you have to surrender an animal,  ask before you sign on the dotted line.  "What will happen to my pet if he/she doesn't pass your evaluation process?" Can I come and pick him back up?

2. Scrutinize shelter statistics carefully.  Ask your local shelter what their policy is on owner-requested euthanasia.  If you don't like the answer, or if you don't get an answer; take your donations and support elsewhere.

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott


  1. I shouldn't be, but I'm shocked that there are shelters that actually lie about ORE numbers. This is the kind of dishonest BS that makes us all look bad an instill an inherent distrust of all shelters, regardless of whether they're guilty of this. It makes me so angry.

    Also, just my two cents on #1 of your advice--If you are able to take the animal back and find an alternative if the shelter will euthanize, you obviously have another option to take, so you should take that option BEFORE surrendering. Surrendering an animal to a shelter (unless it's a contractually required return), should be your absolute LAST option. Even the nicest of shelters are incredibly stressful places and leaving an animal who has only known life in a home into a cage or kennel surrounded by other stressed out animals is a terribly frightening and confusing experience. It should only be done if all other avenues have been exhausted.

  2. People might euthanize their pets before they move, or because they feel somehow that the pet wouldn't be happy with anyone else.
    Statistics can lie. Shelters don't want to look bad, that hasn't changed.

  3. It gets worse than that. I have recently gotten complaints about pets killed at our local humane society. They were brought in by someone seeking to get revenge on their spouse who was divorcing them... And, the humane society facilitated the revenge.

  4. Here is how the Tompkins County SPCA deals with the owner requested euthanasia: "We've eliminated owner requested euthanasia from our menu of services. If someone asks for it, we give them the party line: "we are not in the business of killing people's pets for them." We recommend taking the animal to his own veterinarian where the pet can die with dignity surrounded by caring people who know and love him."

    That's pretty heartless in a lot of cases... do you have any idea how much eu services generally cost at the vet? So, basically these desperate people will take matters into their own hands. Turning animals away is cruelty.

  5. I'm happy to report that our local shelter does not offer this service anymore! Lakeshore Humane Society in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, that is :-)

  6. Kathy, I completely agree that Owner Surrendered Euthanasia should be scrutinized and clearly only used as a true end-of-life service (and clearly, in this case, this is an extraordinarily high number of OSE). However, I get really concerned when I hear the celebration of shelters refusing to do OSE. Recently, I had to euthanize my 18 year old cat -- in a chronic condition that turned south very quickly. I had to schedule an emergency appointment for later that day for euthanasia, and it was not inexpensive. I'm blessed that the financial piece was a small concern compared to the sadness and stress of my cat dying a very painful death. And I often think about the pet owners in my community that are not doing well financially,and how horrible it would be to have a dying animal that you cannot afford to have humanely euthanized and then the idea of being turned away from a shelter seems heartless. Is turning away someone who needs help in this time of need the compassionate thing to do, for the human or the animal? Our shelter does perform end-of-life euthanasia at a low cost to our city's citizens. The final decision on euthanasia is our decision and we will be honest up front in our evaluation....and I'm glad it is a service we provide to our citizens, of whom, 25% live below the poverty line.